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Starting with the Negative

Starting with the negative is nothing more than asking every possible question in its negative form rather than the positive one.

  • “Is this a bad time to talk?”, versus, “Is it a good time to talk?”;
  • “Does this proposal sound ridiculous?”, versus “Does this proposal sound good?”;

Underlying Psychology/Biases

This technique works due to the fact that, when you ask a question in the positive, asking for a “yes”, you will obtain a lot of false “yes”es. It’s manipulative, to a point. When you give the person a choice to say “no”, they will be honest when it’s, in fact, a “no”.

  • In short, you will not get more “no”s, but you will obtain the true “no” behind every false “yes” that you would otherwise obtain;

This technique also works, to an extent, because you’re asking for a big disagreement. So chances are the person may even have a small disagreement, but not a big one, so they won’t say anything.

  • For example, when you ask, “Is this proposal ridiculous?”. It may be bad, but not ridiculous. So they won’t disagree. And the feeling they will have is that it’s not so bad;
  • It’s almost a challenge to label their intent that fails, which is similar to the technique of eliciting multiple reasons. You’re daring the person to say something, to make their intention clear, but they can’t. And because of that, they get the opposite feeling. It’s a snapback effect;

Sub-Techniques

Examples

  • “Is this a bad time?”
    • Used by salesmen. When you ask if it’s a good time, the person will say “yes”, even it’s a false one, and the conversation will be forced. By coming from “no”, you do the opposite, you eliminate the people that don’t want to talk right away, and the people that remain are authentically available;
  • “Are you against [ABC]?”
    • Instead of asking someone, “Do you want to buy?”, asking them, “Are you against buying?”. If they are not against it, you can proceed;
  • “Is this a bad fit?”
    • Asking someone if something is a bad fit, instead of asking them to validate whether it’s a good fit, which they would not do as easily;

Commercial/Known Uses

Key Takeaways

  • Starting with the negative eliminates false “yes”es that would obtain by allowing the person to give the true “no” behind them;
  • It’s quick and easy to use. Unlike some of the most advanced techniques, it can be applied immediately;
  • It reduces false compliance. It doesn’t increase the amount of true compliance you get, but it does dramatically decrease flakes and false answers. Only the truth remains;
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